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Top 10 Maryland-Born Pro Wrestling Stars

August 2, 2017
Kevin Eck is a former member of the WWE creative team and now blogs about pro wrestling for PressBox.

Lanham, Md., native Lio Rush's appearance at the MCW Pro Wrestling event Aug. 12 in Joppa, Md., is being billed as his final match on the independent wrestling scene, as he reportedly has signed with WWE/NXT.

Rush is the latest Maryland-born pro wrestler to make a name for himself on the national stage, as he's already had a noteworthy stint in Ring of Honor. With that in mind, here are my rankings of the top 10 pro wrestling stars from Maryland (Rush just missed making the list, but the 22-year-old hasn't even been wrestling for three years). The rankings are based the level of stardom a performer has achieved on a national level in their respective eras.

10. Rich Swann 

Despite being 26, the charismatic Baltimore native and former WWE Cruiserweight Champion has been wrestling professionally for more than a decade and performed all over the world, including Europe, Japan and Mexico in addition to the top U.S.-based independent promotions. Swann signed a developmental deal with WWE/NXT in 2015, and in 2016 he participated in WWE's Cruiserweight Classic, where he made it to the quarterfinals. He went on to join the "Raw" roster and win the WWE Cruiserweight Title in November 2016 on the debut episode of "205 Live."

9. Moose

The Global Force Wrestling star was born Quinn Ojinnaka in Seabrook, Md., near Washington, D.C. After playing seven seasons in the NFL as an offensive lineman, the DeMatha High School alum began pursuing a career in pro wrestling at 28 and has come a long way during his four years in the business. The athletic, 6-foot-5, 300-plus pound Moose had a successful two-year stint in ROH before moving on to TNA (now GFW) in 2016 and winning the Grand Championship twice. 

8. Van Hammer

While he never achieved main-event status, the native of Wicomico County's Hebron, Md., had a solid career in WCW for a decade. Billed as Heavy Metal" Van Hammer (real name Mark Hildreth), he got an immediate push by squashing Terry Taylor in his debut on a 1991 "Clash of the Champions" broadcast. The chiseled, 6-foot-5 Hammer had a memorable Falls Count Anywhere Match against Cactus Jack (Mick Foley) on a 1992 episode of "Clash of the Champions," and he also won "The Jesse Ventura Strongest Arm Tournament" that year, defeating Vinnie Vegas (Kevin Nash), Vader and Ron Simmons in arm-wrestling contests.

7. Gillberg

After spending several years in WWE as an enhancement wrestler, Duane Gill of Glen Burnie, Md., became a household name during the Attitude Era as Gillberg, a scrawny parody of then-WCW superstar Goldberg. Before adopting the memorable Gillberg persona, he was a member of the J.O.B. Squad in 1998 and defeated Christian to win the now-defunct WWE Light Heavyweight Championship. He went on to hold the title for 15 months, making him the longest-reigning holder of that title in WWE history.

6. Axl Rotten

The Baltimore native dropped out of Southern High School in the 11th grade to become a pro wrestler, and just a few years later he made it to WCW for a short stint. Rotten (real name Brian Knighton), who died from a drug overdose at 44 in 2016, had his greatest success in ECW, where he became known for his bloody, ultra-violent weapons matches. A legendary figure on the Maryland independent wrestling scene, Rotten  later appeared in both WWE and TNA when the promotions did ECW reunion angles.

5. Luke Gallows

Born Drew Hankinson in Cumberland, Md., where he was a star offensive lineman for Fort Hill High School in Allegany County, Gallows has been a fixture on the national and international wrestling scene for a decade. Currently on "Raw," where he and partner Karl Anderson are former tag team champions, Gallows debuted in WWE in 2007 as Festus, an over-the-top character who would be catatonic until the bell rang, transform into an unstoppable monster and then return to his catatonic state when the bell sounded again. Gallows later became a member of C.M. Punk's Straight Edge Society in WWE and had a run in TNA as part of the Aces and Eights stable. He went on to become a star in New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he and Anderson joined forces as part of Bullet Club and won the IWGP Tag Team Title three times.

4. Stacy Keibler

Before you complain about Keibler's inclusion or placement in these rankings, keep in mind this is a list of "top stars" not "top wrestlers." While no one will confuse the leggy blonde from Rosedale, Md., with The Fabulous Moolah or Mildred Burke in the ring, she did gain fame as a WWE Diva, in part due to her participation in Bra and Panties matches, mud matches and in-ring bikini contests. A former Baltimore Ravens cheerleader and a Catholic High and Towson State alum, Keibler broke into the wrestling business with WCW in 1999 at 20 when she won a contest to become a Nitro Girl. She went to WWE in 2001 after the company purchased WCW. Keibler gained mainstream attention as a contestant on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars in 2006 and as George Clooney's girlfriend and Maxim magazine covergirl. 

3. Killer Karl Kox

He was billed from Texas throughout his career, but Kox was actually Herb Gerwig from Baltimore, a Forest Park High School alum. Known for his brawling style and strong promos, Kox was one of the top heels in the business in the 1960s and 1970s, winning titles in numerous NWA territories, including Texas, Florida, Georgia (where he was managed by Bobby "The Brain" Heenan) and Kansas City. Kox also was a star in Japan and Australia, where he won the IWA World Heavyweight Championship three times. Kox died in 2011 at 80 from a stroke after a massive heart attack.

2. Scott Hall

You probably thought "The Bad Guy" hailed from Miami, but the WWE Hall of Famer was born in St. Mary's County, Md. Hall, who rose to prominence in the early 1990s as Razor Ramon in WWE, went on to become one of the biggest stars of the Monday Night Wars era. A member of the influential Kliq (along with Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Kevin Nash and Sean Waltman), Hall played a key role in pro wrestling's boom period in the late 1990s when he and Nash left WWE for WCW and formed the New World Order in one of the most famous and successful angles in wrestling history. Hall's substance-abuse issues are well documented, but he turned his life around in recent years, thanks in large part to his friend Diamond Dallas Page and DDP Yoga.

1. Shane McMahon

WWE and the McMahon family have been headquartered in Connecticut since the early 1980s, but Shane O'Mac actually was born in Gaithersburg, Md., where his parents, Vince and Linda, resided for a brief period in the early 1970s. Shane started working in his father's company stuffing programs and mailing merchandise in a warehouse when he was 15. He later became a member of the ring crew and a referee before rising up the corporate ladder. In addition to his various roles behind the scenes, the current commissioner of "SmackDown" became an on-air performer in WWE in 1998. While never a full-time wrestler, Shane has had high-profile matches with many of WWE's biggest names and his holy-you-know-what death-defying spots are legendary.

Catch "The Hot Tag" every  Wednesday  on PressBoxOnline.com, and follow Kevin Eck on Twitter,  @KevinEck_WWE .